OpEd: How to Win Friends and Manipulate People

In response to recent Facebook privacy fiascoes — the privacy upgrade downgrade and inevitable backtracking, Zuckerberg’s (and other exec’s) various ill-informed remarks, etc, etc — I’ve co-authored an op-ed with Chris Hoofnagle, the director of information privacy programs at the UC Berkeley School of Law’s Center for Law & Technology, where we criticize Facebook’s “perfection of privacy public relations.”

The piece appears in The Huffington Post. Here’s an excerpt:

How to Win Friends and Manipulate People
Chris Jay Hoofnagle and Michael Zimmer
Posted: June 2, 2010 07:44 PM

Information-intensive companies such as Facebook follow a Machiavellian public relations strategy when introducing new programs. Without warning, these companies introduce “features” that invariably result in more information being shared with advertisers, wait for a negative reaction, and then announce minimal changes without affecting the new feature. They explain away the fuss with public relations spin: “we are listening to our users,” “we didn’t get it right this time,” “we look forward to your feedback,” etc. This strategy works, time and time again.

In all these cases, Facebook follows the pattern of taking two steps forward with an aggressive misuse of personal information and creeping back the slightest bit once the criticisms emerged. Each time, Facebook promised users that “we will keep listening,” and artfully reminding us that all they really want to do is make “the world more open and connected.”

These events represent the perfection of privacy public relations. Guided by earlier battles fought by tobacco and drug companies, information-intensive firms have learned how to use rhetoric to distract the public while successfully implementing new programs. They are the Machiavellis of privacy.

Read the entire op-ed here.

1 comment

  1. Yes, he probably has his developers create both versions at the same time.  Team 1 makes the excessively egregious version while Team 2 makes the egregious version simultaneously. They release the excessively egregious version and wait for users to complain and some negative press, then they have a couple days of double talk to assuage the publics concern — they wait until LOTS of stenographers in the press parrot his words and print his editorials and then they remove the excessively egregious version and replace it with the egregious version. Mission accomplished.

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